Conflicting accounts sowed confusion about confrontation at Lincoln Memorial

Confusion over incident at Lincoln Memorial

A confrontation involving a group of teenagers wearing Make America Great Again hats and a Native American man went viral over the weekend. But the situation that unfolded in Washington, D.C., Friday was more complicated than first reported.

The first angle of what happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial showed the Native American man, Nathan Phillips, drumming in front of Nick Sandmann, a high school junior from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who was inches away from Phillips while his schoolmates chanted. It seemed as if Phillips was being treated disrespectfully.

But within hours came more videos. The kids from Kentucky had been taunted by a small group of African American provocateurs known as the Black Hebrew Israelites. The Covington teens shouted over them with their school cheers, while dozens more jumped up and down.

Nathan Phillips
Courtesy Kaya Taitano via Instagram

That was when Phillips walked into the group of students, beating his drum to calm a combustible situation.

"What did you do when America was tearing itself apart? Or did you go in there in the midst of it and say, this is wrong? That's what I did," he said.

While Philips said he heard the kids taunt him and the diocese and school initially condemned the students, the other videos told a more complex story, according to supporters of the kids.

Ever since, social media has raged. The boys, Phillips and media were all taking it on the chin depending on who was posting, demonstrating how we now process events in real time — not necessarily the time frame required to gain true understanding.

Maybe the most striking thing is this all unfolded steps from the words of Lincoln etched into the memorial: "Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.